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UNLV Basketball:

End of Rebels’ bench gets into the action during 60-point victory

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV’s head coach Dave Rice signals his players with Dantley Walker (30) behind during their game at the Orleans Arena on Friday, December 5, 2014.

UNLV Basketball vs. St. Katherine

UNLV's Dwayne Morgan (15) gets high up for a short shot over the St. Katherine defense during their game at the Orleans Arena on Friday, December 5, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Dantley Walker hasn’t been in this position for quite awhile so yeah, there were a few nerves going inside Nevada’s all-time prep leader in points and assists.

With a short bench and an overmatched opponent, Walker knew he would play more than his previous high of four minutes. The final tally ended up being 22 minutes, and the redshirt freshman from Panaca made the most of them, scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, all 3-pointers, and fouling out in the final 30 seconds.

“It felt good,” Walker said tonight after UNLV’s 113-53 victory against St. Katherine at the Orleans Arena. “It’s been about a three-year break since I played a game like that.”

These were meaningful minutes in the loosest definition, but for Walker they were important. Same goes for walk-ons Barry Cheaney and Charles Rushman, who each set career highs in minutes played.

Cheaney (12 minutes) and Rushman (eight) were the eighth and ninth guys off UNLV’s bench because that’s all the Rebels were able to dress. Regular starters Rashad Vaughn (back) and Jelan Kendrick (back, groin) both sat out with injuries and Kendall Smith’s recent departure left the Rebels very short-handed.

For one night that was fine because St. Katherine, an NAIA program playing its second season of basketball, would probably struggle against Findlay Prep. The Firebirds did what they could but that wasn’t much, hitting 28.9 percent from the field, including 0-for-9 on 3-pointers in the second half. UNLV shot 62.1 percent from the field and scored their most points since a 124-75 victory against Central Arkansas in 2011.

This was the third game in five days for the Firebirds, who Saturday will wake up and drive to Cedar City, Utah, for another game against Southern Utah before heading over to San Jose State on Tuesday to make it five games in nine days.

“I think we all recognize the teams we are going to need to compete with and try to beat coming up are going to be a major step up in competition from tonight,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice.

Everybody except freshman Pat McCaw set or tied their best point total in a Rebel uniform, with six of those being outright career highs. Dwayne Morgan led the way with 23 points plus 12 rebounds, followed by Christian Wood (20 and 10), Jordan Cornish (19, eight and six assists), Goodluck Okonoboh (12 and 10), Cheaney (eight) and Walker.

Walker’s first 3-pointer was actually an important one. Less than 10 seconds after checking in Walker took a pass on the wing and flicked the ball cleanly through the net to extend the Rebels’ lead to 13-9.

They had been sluggish at the start, but soon after the floodgates opened. UNLV spent a majority of the second half adding incremental degrees of difficulty to their alley-oop attempts.

“When we went in the locker room we said we were going to step on their necks, and that’s what we did,” Cornish said.

Considering the opponent and the home team traveling to a different locale on a Friday night in Las Vegas after a 22-point loss, it wasn’t surprising to see fewer than 4,000 in the crowd. But when UNLV’s little-used trio made plays they sure got loud.

Starting with Walker’s initial 3 to Cheaney’s two made 3s and Rushman’s one basket, the fans shouted their joy. So did the bench.

“You can see how popular (those guys) are,” Rice said. “When Barry scored, when Dantley scored, you saw our whole bench stand up and cheer.”

That’s not uncommon, though Walker’s situation is a bit unique since he does one thing so well that everyone on the team has stories about Walker draining a 3 in their face.

“It’s a big deal to us when he can show people what he does in practice,” Morgan said.

Added Cornish, “Day in and day out he comes in and busts our tail.”

Cheaney, a redshirt junior, is the longest tenured Rebel yet he had never played more than four minutes before tonight. This game was far more important for him, Walker and Rushman, than the rest of the Rebels, who have a week off before a trip to South Dakota.

For most of the guys, this next week is what really matters as they try to heal up and make the necessary improvements — consistent ball-screen defense, offensive spacing, etc. — that are going to be key as the schedule gets more difficult. Utah is only two weeks away, and that kicks off a stretch that includes Arizona and road trips to Wyoming and Kansas.

That’s what really matters in the coming days and weeks. Tonight was for the unheralded, and the end of UNLV’s bench made the most of it.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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